How to Double Cleanse with Dry, Acne-prone Skin

When you have dry skin and acne, skincare can get really confusing. Most acne products are made for oily skin, and thus, many acne products have the potential to be drying. The most common type of acne products cause more cellular proliferation, they make skin turnover faster with retinoids, or they exfoliate the skin by removing the top layers of skin. However, If you have both dry skin and acne, these types of products can be stripping. Luckily, there are things you can do like cleanse backwards, or you can even apply a retinoid between two other products. But, but before we get into our dry skin and acne routine, let’s first review what acne is. Acne is caused by bacteria that naturally grow in our skin. The bacteria start to eat our skin’s oil as well as other substances. Then, this bacteria creates waste products. 

These waste products are irritating to the skin, and different immune cells are sent to that area which causes red inflammation and swelling. In turn, many people use things like benzoyl peroxide products to stop this process. Benzoyl peroxide products work by drying the skin out and also by forming a bond that breaks and introduces oxygen into the skin. Another common approach to acne treatment is salicylic acid which is oil soluble and exfoliating. But if you’re acne-prone, what do you do if treatments like this feel stripping? There are two main options. One includes cleansing backwards, and the other one is using a cleanser that doesn’t overly strip.

For cleansing backwards, the first step is using an oil-based makeup remover that’s hydrating. Look for one that removes mascara, cleanser, and sunscreen. Then, you can go in with a regular cleanser to remove residue. If you have oily skin, that’s how a double cleanse should be done. Once you use a balm to remove all of the residues from the day, you can then use something like PanOxyl Peroxide. After you cleanse with an acne treatment like this, you can even balm again. The idea with double cleansing for dry skin is to leave behind an occlusive layer to provide skin barrier support and lock in moisture.

PanOxyl Acne Creamy Wash Benzoyl Peroxide 4% Daily Control - $9.48

This product is more creamy and less drying than other Benzoyl peroxide treatments. So, after you’ve washed your face with that, you can also apply something like the Inkey List Oat Cleansing Balm or the Aromatica orange cleansing sorbet. All of these oil cleansing balms leave a film on the skin which protects the skin. Especially if you’re washing your face inside of the shower, the cleansing balm can lock in the moisture that your skin takes in from the humid air. Also, note that hot water can strip the skin. Lukewarm showers are the best option.

Aromatica Orange Cleansing Sorbet -$29.95

Inkey List Oat Cleansing Balm - $9.99

Dr. Sam’s Flawless Cleanser -$22

This one from Dr. Sam’s doesn’t have any actives that are going to treat acne, but it’s a safe bet that’s very luxurious.


When you have acne, it seems natural to reach for BHAs since they’re oil-soluble. But because of this, they also exfoliate the outer layers of the skin, kill bacteria, and lead to potential dryness. Fortunately, there are AHAs like lactic, glycolic, malic, and tartaric acid. While these acids are exfoliating, they are also water-soluble. They hold onto water, and they’re slightly more moisturizing and hydrating than BHAs. You can’t really use them as a moisturizer, but if you’re struggling with dryness and you want to exfoliate off flakes, this is a good choice. Sometimes BHAs like salicylic acid are too drying, and in turn, they make the acne on dry skin worse. Luckily, AHAs at a low percentage are great alternatives. Another great option is PHAs, large molecules that sit on the outside of the skin. They are sugar molecules that hold onto water. They’re gentle enough to use every single day, and you can use them in the morning for dry skin. They do exfoliate and they’re hydrating, sugar molecules that hold onto water. 

Hydration is important for dry and acne-prone skin although there are rumors that state otherwise.

Hydrating and moisturization are very important. Hydration is when water sinks into the lower layers of your skin and moisturization locks it in. Some of the most hydrating ingredients are glycerin and hyaluronic acid. There is also niacinamide. Niacinamide can help regulate oil control on the skin, and it can also create ceramides. As long as it’s a low percentage, a niacinamide toner can help you hydrate the skin. 

Don’t be afraid of hydration, and find a moisturizer that works for you. When you have acne-prone and dry skin, you might want a moisturizer that has retinol. But as mentioned before, retinols can be very drying. Retinols work by producing more skin cells within the bottom layer of your skin. However, it turns over and thins out the outer layer of the skin as it does this. While this can cause a ton of dryness, there are solutions. You can apply retinol or retinaldyhyde between two layers of petrolatum at night. First, apply a thin, buffer layer of petrolatum to a cleansed face, and then, you can go in with your retinol. Afterward, you can apply another layer of petrolatum to lock it all in. Petrolatum is oil soluble so the retinol will soak into your skin but without the irritation. Furthermore, there are many retinols in oil forms that can also lock in moisture. In the morning, you can also use a hydrating sunscreen that is tailored to dry skin. 

AcneFree Retinaldehyde Adapalene Gel -$21.99

Mychelle Remarkable Retinol Night Cream -$42.50

This is a nice, thick creamy moisturizer that vitamin A. It has shea butter, and it soaks nicely into the skin. 

ISNtree Watery Sun Gel - $17.89

This gives a glow, and it works well over a moisturizer.


Apostrophe ‘Screen SPF 40 -$27


Face Reality Ultimate Protection SPF 28 -$29

This one is hydrating, and it is made for acne-prone skin.